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Bach Series

James Armstrong Baroque Violin

BACH Nº 12
James Armstrong performs the Preludio from JS Bach's Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin, BWV 1006

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)


Johann Sebastian Bach’s tenure as Capellmeister in Köthen, during which he finalised his collection of Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, was one of his most productive and creative periods. Much of the music composed during this time would later serve Bach well, especially while under pressure to produce a great quantity of quality music for important services and events in Leipzig.

As part of Bach’s role as Cantor of St Thomas Church in Leipzig, he was required to provide music for formal state occasions such as the town council elections. As it happened in August 1731, two new cantatas were required for performances on consecutive days – the regular Sunday service and the special council election on Monday the 31st.

Testament to both the lack of time at hand and the quality of the original material, for the council election Bach chose to reuse his Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin – for the second time. He successfully turned this exuberant opening movement into a complete orchestral setting scored for obbligato organ and ten instrumental parts to accompany the exit of the town council at the end of the service. According to Bach expert Christoph Wolff:

…reports in the Leipzig papers of the so-called council sermon on August 31, 1731, on which occasion 'the Royal Electoral Court Composer and Capellmeister, Mr. Joh. Seb. Bach, performed a music that was as artful as it was pleasant'… This performance of Cantata BWV 29 began with an elaborate concerto movement for organ solo and orchestra, a sophisticated arrangement for the first movement for the Partita in E major for unaccompanied violin, BWV 1006, that most likely featured the composer as soloist. The terms 'artful' and 'pleasant', however banal they may strike us today, are highly favourable judgements that far exceed what newspapers of the time generally wrote about a musical performance.


The bravura Preludio is filled with torrents of practically unceasing semiquavers and has become both familiar and well-loved whether in its original incarnation or in one of Bach’s orchestral settings. Even Rachmaninoff gifted posterity with a spectacular arrangement for solo piano, recorded by himself in 1933.

James Armstrong, currently the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s youngest member, discovered this famous Preludio early in his violin studies:

When I first began playing the violin, I recall listening to plenty of CDs devoted to ‘the best of’ violin repertoire. On one of these albums, there was a recording of the Preludio from JS Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major that I fell in love with immediately. It was the first of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin I ever heard, and I was totally in awe of how it was possible for a solo violin to produce so many different voices! I chose this particular movement because I love its joyful and especially effervescent character. It opens with a heralding fanfare on the E-string, followed by sparkling bariolage across three strings, playfully developing through different keys.

I find it interesting to compare the original part for solo violin with Bach’s orchestration of the material in both the Sinfonia from the Wedding Cantata BWV 120a (1729) and the overture to Cantata BWV 29 ‘Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir’ (1731). The expanded instrumentation uses the organ to play the bubbling semiquavers accompanied by strings and trumpets – creating triumph and joy within the genius architecture of this movement.

Program Notes: Joanna Butler & Hugh Ronzani, 2020
Image Credit: Steven Godbee, 2020



Discover More

Bach's Universe

Enter Bach’s universe this August. 

Bach's Universe is an exclusive new digital-only Baroque music film by Paul Dyer and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Viewers will enter the heart of the orchestra with stunning cinematography that offers unique insight into the interplay and invention of Baroque music performance.

Directed by Stef Smith, this cinematic new production stars radiant German Baroque violinist Jonas Zschenderlein who delivers an impassioned performance of Bach's Violin Concerto in E major in his Australian debut. 

Spanning intimate instrumental works and immersive orchestral offerings, Bach’s Universe includes the timeless Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 and Prelude in E minor, BWV 855 from the first book of The Well Tempered Clavier.  

Buy your tickets at: https://brandenburg.com.au/concerts/2021/bachs-universe/


James is currently in his second year of studying a Bachelor of Music Performance on violin under Janet Davies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He began playing the violin at the age of 11, having been learning piano, clarinet and flute before discovering his love for the violin. In 2019, he was awarded the Ted and Susan Meller Memorial Scholarship Fund from the University of Sydney. 

During his school years at St Aloysius’ College, he was the Captain of Music and Concertmaster of the orchestra and chamber orchestra. James has appeared as a soloist with the orchestra throughout his senior school years and toured to the USA in 2014. James has partaken in programs with the Sydney Youth Orchestra since 2014 and is currently the principal second violinist of the flagship orchestra. He has also performed with groups such as the Australian Youth Orchestra, The Musician Project, ’Symphony in A Day’ and Ensemble Apex. In 2019, James was the inaugural recipient of The Austria Scholarship from SYO and the Austrian National Tourism Office. This invaluable opportunity allowed James to travel to Vienna and Salzburg to immerse himself in the Austrian music scene, performing in masterclasses with Lukas Ljubas, Jan Pospichal, and Anne Harvey-Nagl, performing in the Volksoper Orchester, and also performing chamber music with principal players of the Volksoper. He has enjoyed performing in masterclasses on both modern and Baroque violin with Michael Barenboim, the Calder Quartet, the Simón Bolívar Quartet, Midori Goto and Louis Creac’h. 

As a keen chamber musician, James toured the Central West region of NSW in 2019 to perform in regional centres and continues to perform regularly with groups at the Sydney Conservatorium. James is currently the Convenor of Chamber Music at St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney. 

James was first introduced to playing on gut strings in 2018, when he first performed with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra through the Young Mentorship Program. Throughout this program, he has had the opportunity to perform and tour with the orchestra, as well as receiving mentoring from Matthew Greco, Shaun Lee-Chen and Ben Dollman on Baroque violin. 

Besides playing violin and his studies, James is a self-proclaimed walking enthusiast. He is particularly interested in languages and, having studied French at school, he has now taken up a German course.

Member of the Young Mentorship Program 2018 and 2019 

Biography: James Armstrong, 2020
Image Credit: Steven Godbee, 2020


My Baroque violin was made by a German luthier, Ekkard Seidl, in his studio in Markneukirchen in 2002. It is a replica of an Andrea Amati instrument from 1566. The body is made of a medium pine with ebony veneered fingerboard and tailpiece with a wonderful decorative maple edging. The collard pegs and fittings are also ebony with a bridge setup modelled on the Stradivari.

This beautiful instrument is on loan to me courtesy of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. 

I love the warm tone that this violin has, especially on the A and D-strings in the middle register. The sound of this violin speaks so clearly and projects very well. I particularly love how the clarity and brilliance of the upper register and richness of the lower register facilitate plenty of experimentation with tone colours and conveys nuance in my playing, which is unique to this instrument. Relatively small in size, it is quite a light violin, which physically makes me feel at one with the instrument, as if the violin were an extension of my body. An added bonus is that it is also a very pretty instrument. With its light-coloured wood and shiny varnish, it is a stunning replica of the master Italian luthier, Amati.


Instrument Notes: James Armstrong, 2020
Image Credit: Katelyn-Jane Dunn, 2020


The excerpt above of the Preludio from Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin comes from the 1720 autograph manuscript of Bach’s collection of Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. The manuscript is currently held in the Berlin State Library.


Born 21 March 1685 in Eisenach
Died 28 July 1750 in Leipzig
Childhood (1685–1703)
Weimar, Arnstadt, and Mühlhausen (1703–1708)
Return to Weimar (1708–1717)
Cöthen (1717–1723)
Leipzig (1723–1750)

Image Credit: Berlin State Library 


APA is proud to support the Brandenburg Bach Series. Arts and entertainment are important to Australia’s diverse culture and economy. During the COVID-19 pandemic these sectors and the artists, musicians, creatives and makers at its core, have been particularly hard hit. Innovation like this online series of recitals is evidence of their innovation and resilience. It will sustain and broaden audiences for this music long into the future.

Image Credit: Katelyn Jane-Dunn, 2020

Keep watching


Jonas Zschenderlein & Paul Dyer

BACH Nº 22
Jonas Zschenderlein & Paul Dyer perform the Prelude from JS Bach's Sonata in E minor for violin & continuo, BWV 1023


Jonas Zschenderlein Baroque Violin

BACH Nº 21
Jonas Zschenderlein performs the Siciliana & Presto from JS Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor for solo violin, BWV 1001


Marianne Yeomans Baroque Viola

BACH Nº 20
Marianne Yeomans performs the Sarabanda from JS Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004, transcribed for viola in G minor


Matthew Greco Baroque Violin

BACH Nº 19
Matthew Greco performs the Allemanda & Double from Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002


Mikaela Oberg Baroque Flute

BACH Nº 18
Mikaela Oberg performs the Allemande from JS Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013


Tommie Andersson Gallichon

BACH Nº 17
Tommie Andersson performs the Double (from Sarabande) from Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002, transcribed for Gallichon


Ben Dollman Baroque Violin

BACH Nº 16
Ben Dollman performs the Largo & Allegro assai  from JS Bach's Sonata No. 3 in C major for solo violin, BWV 1005


Monique O'Dea Baroque Viola

BACH Nº 15
Monique O’Dea performs the Tempo di Borea from Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002, transcribed for viola in E minor


Melissa Farrow Baroque Flute

BACH Nº 14
Melissa Farrow performs the Sarabande from JS Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013


Paul Dyer Harpsichord

BACH Nº 13
Paul Dyer performs the Allemande from JS Bach's French Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 815


Monique O'Dea Baroque Viola

BACH Nº 11
Monique O'Dea performs the Double  (from Sarabande)  from JS Bach's Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002, transcribed for viola in E minor


Joanna Butler Harpsichord

BACH Nº 10
Joanna Butler performs the Sarabande from JS Bach's English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808


Matthew Greco Baroque Violin

Matthew Greco performs the Allegro from Sonata No. 2 in A minor for solo violin, BWV 1003


Anthea Cottee Baroque Cello

Anthea Cottee performs the Courante & Sarabande from JS Bach's Suite No. 1 in G major for solo cello, BWV 1007


Mikaela Oberg Baroque Flute

Mikaela Oberg performs the Corrente from JS Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013


Marianne Yeomans Baroque Viola

Marianne Yeomans performs the Allemanda from JS Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004, transcribed for viola in G minor


Rafael Font Baroque Violin

Rafael Font performs the Grave & Fuga from JS Bach's Sonata No. 2 in A minor for solo violin, BWV 1003


Anthea Cottee Baroque Cello

Anthea Cottee performs the Allemande from JS Bach's Suite No. 1 in G major for solo cello, BWV 1007


Melissa Farrow Baroque Flute

Melissa Farrow performs the Bourée Anglaise from JS Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013


Tommie Andersson Gallichon

Tommie Andersson performs the Sarabande from JS Bach's Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV 1002, transcribed for Gallichon


Paul Dyer Harpsichord

Paul Dyer performs the Prelude No. 1 in C major & Improvisation, BWV 846 from JS Bach's The Well‑Tempered Clavier, Book 1